A grassroots campaign launched to raise money for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) after President Bush cut funding to the organization hit the $1 million mark last week. The campaign, 34 Million Friends, was launched by Jane Roberts of California and Lois Abraham of New Mexico, two activists who joined forces to make up for the loss of $34 million appropriated by Congress for the UNFPA but blocked by Bush last July. Through emails, a letters, and phone calls, the two called for individual donations of at least $1 to the UN organization, which provides women's and children's health care services in 141 low-income countries. So far, 100,000 people have sent in contributions ranging from $1 to $25,000, according to Reuters. At the press conference announcing the $1 million mark, Ted Turner's UN Foundation pledged $250,000 in matching funds, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"Right now, the campaign is a wonderful way for Americans to reach out to women worldwide," said Roberts in an interview with the Feminist Majority Foundation. "We need to tell the world that our government, and not the American people, made [the] choice [to cut funding]. The American people support UNFPA." In addition to raising money, Roberts and Abraham are hoping to make visible the US constituency that supports reproductive rights and international family planning. "Politicians can count. We have had 100,000 people take the time to hunt up an envelope, find a stamp, and stick a dollar bill in the envelope. That's a significant response," Abraham told the Chicago Tribune.
Bush withheld the $34 million in funding based on allegations by the right-wing Population Research Institute that UNFPA programs in China support coercive family planning policies. Bush sent a fact-finding team to China that found no evidence that the UN organization "has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China." The US contribution to the UNFPA makes up 13 percent of the total funding for its international family planning programs - enabling UNFPA to prevent two million unwanted pregnancies, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of maternal illnesses and over 77,000 cases of infant and child death.
Half of the first million raised will prevent and treat obstetric fistula, a condition that mainly affects young women. The condition most often occurs during long labors, often resulting in a miscarriage and, without proper treatment, loss of control of the bowels and the bladder. The operation to treat the condition costs approximately $350, which is often out of reach for the women affected.